A prisoner who smashed his way out of a courthouse fled in a taxi and then paid the fare.
Matthew George Kidman - described by police as a "desperate man" with a record of hiding from them - was being held on dishonesty and driving-related charges when he escaped from Lower Hutt District Court about 2.30pm yesterday.
The 31-year-old fugitive had been speaking to a lawyer in a cellblock area of the court before he smashed a sheet of perspex, ran through an office area and out a side door.
Armed police searched the central city and Queensgate Mall, but could not find him. CCTV footage later showed him calmly walking towards a taxi outside the mall, which took him on about a 10-minute drive to a friend's place in Naenae.
There he got out of the car, went inside to get some money and paid the fare: "We don't believe he committed any offences on that taxi driver," Hutt Valley area commander Inspector Mike Hill said.
He later left the house, and police did not believe his friend knew he was on the run.
He was arrested about 8.50pm in a vehicle in central Wellington. Police recognised the car from searches they had made of several Hutt Valley homes Kidman had links with.
He was arrested without incident and charged with escaping custody. "It's good to have him caught quickly," Hill said.
"We'll be conducting our own inquiry around what took place and what lessons we learn from it. We'll be looking at the method of his escape, and was he given any assistance once he left the courthouse."
In 2008, armed police searched for Kidman for two days after he skipped bail on firearms charges.
Kidman, described as thin, 1.87 metres tall, was wearing a black puffer jacket and a bright yellow T-shirt, jeans and socks with no shoes when he escaped yesterday.
Anyone with information about his movements yesterday is urged to phone police on (04) 5602669.
A spokeswoman for Queensgate Mall owner Westfield said police did a sweep of the mall, but it was not evacuated.
"The safety of shoppers will always be our first priority and at no time were we advised to evacuate the centre," Deb McGhie said.